Imagine a duel between an elderly man and a mere boy. The same blood runs through their veins. One, Daniele Mallarico, is a successful illustrator whose reputation is slowly fading. The other, Mario, is his four-year-old grandson. The older combatant has lived for years in solitude, focusing obsessively on his work.
The younger one has been left by his querulous parents with his grandfather for a 72-hour stay. Shut inside an apartment in Naples that is filled with the ghosts of Mallarico’s own childhood, grandfather and grandson match wits, while outside lurks Naples, a wily, violent, and passionate city whose influence is not easily shaken.
Review By Ben Hunter
When the once-celebrated children’s book illustrator, Daniele Mallarico arrives in Naples to babysit Mario, his four-year-old grandson, he has no idea of the physical and emotional turmoil he’s getting himself into.
In Domenico Starnone’s playful new novel, Mallarico is trying to create new pictures for an illustrated edition of the Henry James ghost story, The Jolly Corner. Returning to his family home in Naples charges him with a whimsical energy and he wants to get to work. This is hindered by Mario, who, desperate for his attention, criticises his work with the honest brutality only children can muster. Mario’s words break the aging man and their playtime together deteriorates into full-blown conflict, mirroring that of Mario’s quarrelling parents. In Mario’s eyes, Mallarico can only see his ineptitude and lost youth. If he is to meet his commision deadline, he needs to face off with his own ghosts first.
I love the way in which this novel is contained entirely inside the world of the Naples apartment. It becomes a kind of pressure cooker for family tensions. Starnone’s storytelling, focused around the moral pitfalls of the family infused with Italy’s beauty and brutality, have rightfully earned him comparisons with Elena Ferrante.
About the Author
Domenico Starnone was born in Naples and lives in Rome. He is the author of thirteen works of fiction, including First Execution (Europa, 2009), Via Gemito, winner of Italy's most prestigious literary prize, the Strega, and Ties (Europa, 2016), a New York Times Editors pick.
Jhumpa Lahiri is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Interpreter of Maladies. Her books include The Namesake, Unaccustomed Earth, The Lowland, and, most recently, In Other Words, an exploration of language and identity.
Praise for Trick
"The real meat of this story is an old man's breakfasts and bath times with a wired-up four-year-old, his wrestling for the remote, desperately trying to find some space for himself and his work. Starnone, one of Italy's most accomplished novelists, knows the territory and delivers it wonderfully."--Tim Parks, The Guardian
"Domenico Starnone has written an emotionally complex, layered story whose brevity serves to amplify profound themes of self-identity, marriage, aging, death and the daunting sacrifices of the creative life."--Shelf Awareness (Starred Review)
"A superb, sometimes unsettling intergenerational portrait hitting on basic truths."--Library Journal (Starred Review)
"[A] new book from Starnone is an event to celebrate."--Kirkus (Starred Review)
"A maestro translated by a maestra. What more could anyone want?"--Jeffrey Eugenides
"I inhaled Trick, ran to Prairie Lights to get Ties, and inhaled that one too. Trick is fantastic--savage and funny and profound. A little masterpiece."--Garth Greenwell
"Astute and emotionally precise [...] This remarkably layered work encourages rereading to unearth subtle and new interpretations."--Publishers Weekly
"[P]oignant and achingly observed..."--Entertainment Weekly
"A sharp observation of two unlikely rivals matching wits and a trenchant analysis of aging, family and art, this deliciously addictive novel is a treat to read."--BookRiot
"Domenico Starnone's new novel Trick has all the coherence and intensity of a classic two-hand play. [...] Narrated in the grandfather's beleaguered, fractious voice, the book seems to unfold right before you--the voice so lucid and urgent all the emotional torque of what surges beneath the old man's interactions with his grandson--family secrets, a feeling of mortality buffeting up--assault the present, like they do when you're no longer young."--John Freeman, Literary Hub
"[E]ngrossing [...] Starnone packs a huge amount into a small compass..."--The Sunday Times (UK)
"Family ties and family dramas are at the core of this story, but both are written about with such stylistic elegance that readers will be astonished. Once again, Starnone gets it just right. Trick is a must-read!"--Huffington Post (Italy)
"Starnone expertly plucks some of the short story's essence, twisting and molding his own work into a marvel of metafiction that feels fresh and surprising."--The Washington Post
"In Trick, the sophisticated pleasures of meta-fiction live happily together with the elementary pleasures of a story well told, one full of suspense and surprise."--Internazionale
Praise for Domenico Starnone's Ties
"Ties is...the leanest, most understated and emotionally powerful novel by Domenico Starnone."
--Rachel Donadio, The New York Times
"Ties is puzzle-like, architectural, a novel ingeniously constructed."
--The New Yorker
"Ties is a masterful study of passing time."
--National Post (Canada)
"[Ties] is as vivid and devastating as anything you will read this year. A slim, stunning meditation on marriage, fidelity, honesty, and truth."
--Kirkus Reviews(Starred Review)
"Scalding and incisive."
--Library Journal (Starred Review)
"An expertly crafted short novel that is charmingly intimate, disarmingly chatty and laced with some walloping surprises."
"Absolutely gripping from start to finish... a really stunning book."
--Victoria Hislop, author ofCartes Postales from Greece
"Each detail resonates, from the name of the family cat to the idiosyncratic way in which Aldo ties his shoes to his cherished Polaroids. Distinguished by its distinctive characters and clarity of tone, Ties is a gem."
--Jane Ciabattari, BBC
"A complex and devastating dissection of a relationship, superbly teased apart and considered from all possible viewpoints."
"A tight tale of domestic carnage."
--The Times Literary Supplement
"The story glints and cuts like smashed crystal."
--Anthony Cummins, The Guardian
"A fine piece of story-telling... there is a feel of legerdemain to it--capturing and conveying a great deal in a relatively small space."
--M.A. Orthofer, The Complete Review
"Brief, brilliant and unnerving."
--Margot Livesey, author of Mercury
"A cleverly crafted psychological thriller, this slim, intimate novel deftly undoes contemporary gender constructions as well as timeless notions of truth, fidelity, and sacrifice."
--Jennifer Tseng, author of Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness
"A superlative novel, Ties offers an x-ray image both of love that is love in name only and of destruction, specifically a home torn apart by something that at first seems to be a tornado but turns out to be Starnone's brilliant writing."
"Ties is a masterfully crafted synthesis of Starnone's storytelling technique and prose style."
--Christian Raimo, Internazionale
"Ties is not simply a novel about a couple in crisis, but a work of literature where staged scenes featuring one's unrealized self are propped up by the indestructible scaffolding of marriage."
--Daniela Brogi, Le Parole e le Cose